Emotions are our brain’s hyper-efficient way of communicating with us without using words. As team development coaches, we know that it takes other people a nanosecond to pick up on our emotions and they use this information to decide how to engage with us. Often the person experiencing the emotion isn’t aware of the silent non-verbal signals they are transmitting. Our body language, tone of voice, facial expression, language or posture says it all and it can be very subtle!
Emotions are like a virus within teams
The same happens in a team environment where emotions are like a virus that everybody can catch without noticing. In a team environment, emotions are shared and the quality of our work is the indicator that provides the crucial clue of our emotional group contagion. Good feelings are extremely uplifting and powerful, but negative feelings work faster and are more infectious. It’s easy to spread negative emotions and have everybody catch it; similar to a common cold!
It doesn’t take long for outsiders to pick up on team emotions and we should use this independent outside person to provide us with feedback. Also, individuals who have been on longer periods of leave will pick up on the team’s emotions as soon as they get back.
It’s very helpful to get an emotion team check. A team’s emotions become noticeable in the following ways:
- The team’s communication style and language
- The way conflict is resolved
- The openness of the leader
- The manner in which team members influence each other’s ideas
- The rate of flexibility and adaptability to change.
Emotional contagion often goes unnoticed by individuals which means that team members have a collective responsibility towards each other to regularly check in with their emotions and decide if the team will benefit from the current emotional contagion. The emotional contagion has a bigger role to play for leaders because it’s the leader’s mood which sets the tone for the group. Leaders therefore have to be extra vigilant and aware of their emotions and learn how to control them. As an example, team members are infected directly or indirectly by the negative emotions of a leader who expresses his/her disappointment in an angry way. Even those who did not witness the angry outburst are infected because their colleagues will tell them and share the incident over and over. Afterwards the leader recovers very quickly and after a day or two is back to normal, but the team is usually not so lucky and often requires a week to ten days to recover from such an emotional event.
We often forget about the impact one person’s emotions have on the entire team. It’s highly contagious which makes it important to be a fair team player and to decide if this is an emotional virus that will move the team forward or hinder them from achieving the team goal.